Former superintendent at Southwest summarizes projects, progress

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Walker: District on solid ground

Bob Walker, retiring Southwest school superintendent, has completed a comprehensive review of the district's summer projects, programs, progress and student accomplishments from the school year.

One ongoing summer project targeted includes the continued renovation of the elementary cafeteria, which is being completed in phases.

"Last summer, all the floor tile was completely removed from the cafeteria and office areas, and replaced with new tile," Walker said. "This summer, maintenance director Tom Lawrence has moved to the second phase of this project, removing tile and applying an epoxy surface to the kitchen floor, as well as giving the walls and ceiling a fresh coat of paint. A new exhaust system has also been installed to reduce moisture levels from the dishwashing station. Creating a drier environment in the kitchen will also add to the longevity of the other improvements made."

Another project on the summer to-do list is the elementary playground.

"Like so many areas on our campus, erosion and surface materials shifting has always been a challenge on the playground," Walker said. "To combat these factors, we are adding some fill to reduce some of the severe slope, and installing a more effective containment system. The entire playground is also being examined from a safety standpoint, to see if any equipment needs to be repaired or removed."

On academic-related projects, Walker shared updates on academic testing results.

"From an academic standpoint, our district remains committed," he said. "As I have mentioned in past reviews, raising expectations is a trend statewide. Although it will most likely not be until October until we receive most of the results from our spring achievement tests and our Annual Performance Report is provided, we do have some idea concerning how our high school End of Course tests went.

"Initial indications show an improvement in English Language Arts, while maintaining last year's performance levels in both Algebra I and Government. Scores on the Algebra II and Biology exams were a little down. Again, it will be later this fall before middle school and elementary scores are available."

Regardless of outcomes, Walker said when facing challenges of increasing rigor, all students and staff members can do is to work hard and do their best.

This year's senior class, Walker reported, was exceptional and focused on their post-high school plans.

"Their collective college credits earned prior to graduating this spring were more than any other senior class in Barry County, and their total scholarship awards were in excess of $300,000," he said. "Alex Jimenez, in particular, should be acknowledged, as he has received a full academic scholarship to the prestigious Harvard University."

Walker said the district continues to advance toward its 1:1 Computer Technology Initiative to put Google Chromebooks in the hands of students.

"You may recall that two years ago grades five through 12 were equipped with individual devices," he said. "This past semester, additional Chromebooks were purchased for grade four, while grades two and three will have laptops available this fall.

"Also in the elementary, the Title I program will be somewhat different next year. Last quarter, schedules were adjusted to allow for more of an emphasis on math. This focus will continue during the upcoming school year, while not compromising the primary goal of improving reading levels. To better carry out this vision, an additional teacher has been added to the Title I program."

In the arena of extracurricular activities, Walker reported that a great number of students continued to participate in a variety of programs during the school year.

"Senior Jaime Shrum earned all-district and all-conference basketball honors, and was also named the Ozark Seven Tracy Prigg Player of the Year," Walker said. "In addition, Shrum finished her career having scored the second most three-point field goals in the history of Missouri high school girls' basketball. In boys' basketball, Junior Paton Clay was named first team all-conference.

"In softball, our girls achieved a plus-20 win season, with sophomore Taylor Swindle and freshman Maggie Robbins named to both the all-district and all-conference first teams."

Baseball sophomore Jay Fields received first team all-district honors, while also being named first team all-conference, along with senior Garrett Hobbs and junior Paton Clay. The middle school and high school trap shooting teams enjoyed successful seasons, finishing third and fourth in the state, respectively.

Financially, the district is on solid ground, Walker said.

"New school funding legislation was passed during this spring's session, but nothing that will result in remedying the shortfall that schools have had to operate with over the last several years," he said. "Regardless, like most schools in Missouri, Southwest will need to continue to operate prudently and monitor enrollment numbers."

This school year marks Walker's last to oversee projects at the district which he has served for the last seven years, as, earlier this year, he announced he would be retiring after almost 40 combined years in public education.

"As I stated back in November when I announced my plans, my decision is based on simply feeling that it is time," he said. "After 37 years in public education, perhaps there is something else for me to do. Certainly chasing grandkids will be on my agenda. I want to publicly thank the best group of board members I have ever worked with, including current members Robert Catron, Danny Dalton, Ruth Henderson, Albert Pendergraft, Brian Robbins, Pete Rose, and Bobby Stephens, as well as Jeremy Bernard and Robert Shockley, who served previously.

"I'm grateful for their support and trust, and the integrity they have exhibited during my time here. I also couldn't be more pleased with who they have selected as my replacement, Ms. Tosha Tilford. Rest assured, having our board and Ms. Tilford in place, the leadership of Southwest is in great hands. I would also like to thank all of our staff members who I have worked alongside of these past seven years. It has truly been an honor working with folks so committed to serving kids."

In closing his review, Walker offered one last piece of information specifically directed to the parents, caregivers and supporters of the Southwest district.

"Let me once again express my appreciation for all you do," he said. "You are a big reason why our district is doing well. The first day of school, Aug. 11, will be here soon, so please enjoy the rest of the summer and keep your kids safe."

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